Poor circulation may refer to insufficient flow of:
- arteries, which provide blood to the arms and legs
- Veins, which carry blood back to the heart
- Lymphatic system, drains tissue fluid
Poor circulation can affect the entire body, but this article will focus on blood flow in extremities such as legs, feet, arms, and hands.
Poor circulation is not a disease in itself, but is caused by a variety of causes. The most common causes include obesity, diabetes, heart disease and artery problems. If you have signs and symptoms of poor circulation, it's important to treat the underlying cause, not just the symptoms.
Symptoms of poor circulation
The most common symptoms of poor circulation include:
- throbbing or tingling pain in the limbs
- muscle spasms
Each condition that can cause poor circulation also causes unique symptoms. For example, people with peripheral artery disease may experience erectile dysfunction along with the typical pain, numbness, and tingling sensations.
Causes of poor blood circulation
There are many different causes of poor circulation.
peripheral arterial disease
Peripheral artery disease is a type of peripheral vascular disease. Both use the abbreviation (Peripheral artery disease, PAD).
PAD is a circulatory disease that causes narrowing of the arteries. It may cause poor circulation in the extremities, usually the legs. In a related disease called atherosclerosis, the arteries become hardened due to the buildup of plaque in the arteries and blood vessels. Both conditions reduce blood flow to the extremities and may cause pain.
Reduced blood flow to the extremities may cause:
- numbness and tingling
Over time, it can cause nerve and tissue damage.
If left untreated, reduced blood flow and plaque in the carotid arteries may lead to stroke. The carotid artery is the main blood vessel that carries blood to the brain. If plaque builds up in the arteries of your heart, you are at risk for a heart attack.
PAD is most common in adults over 50, but can also affect younger people. Smokers are four times more likely to develop PAD than nonsmokers.
A blood clot partially or completely blocks blood flow. They can form almost anywhere in your body, but blood clots that form in your arms or legs can cause circulation problems.
Blood clots can develop for many reasons and can be dangerous.
In deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot forms in a vein deep in the body, usually in the legs. If you have DVT and a clot breaks off in your leg, it may travel to other parts of your body, including your heart or lungs. It can lead to stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism.
Symptoms of DVT include:
- heat in affected area
You are more likely to have DVT if you are immobile for long periods of time, for example if you have mobility issues or are on bed rest for long periods of time.
When this happens, the results can be serious, even fatal. Early treatment can often prevent serious complications.
Varicose veins are enlarged veins that usually occur in the legs. The veins appear rough, twisted, and congested.
They can develop trustworthy sources when blood vessels in the lower extremities are put under extra pressure or due to damage to the blood vessels.
If you have varicose veins, you may experience the following symptoms in your legs:
Damaged veins cannot carry blood as efficiently as other veins, and poor circulation can become a problem. Sometimes, blood clots can form. However, they usually do not rupture and cause further complications like a DVT.
Factors that increase the risk of varicose veins include:
- is female
- Standing for long periods of time, such as at work
- History of DVT
- genetic factors
Sustained high blood sugar can cause damage to nerves and blood vessels, affecting circulation throughout the body, including the arms, legs, hands and feet.
Signs to watch out for include:
- Cold or numb feet or hands
- Cracked or dry skin on feet
- Fragile nails
- Loss of body hair on arms or legs
- Blue nail beds, or a bluish tinge to the skin, may be harder to see on darker skin
- Wounds heal slowly because blood cannot provide nutrients to the area
- pain or cramping
Anyone who notices these signs should see a doctor.
People with advanced diabetes may have difficulty spotting signs of poor circulation or wounds. This is because diabetic neuropathy can cause reduced sensation in the extremities.
Anyone with wounds on their feet or legs who has diabetes should seek medical advice. If left untreated, ulcers and infection may develop. These may sometimes require amputation.
Diabetes also increases the risk of heart and blood vessel problems, including peripheral arterial disease (PAD). People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
If you are obese, you may be at high risk for circulatory problems.
Obesity increases the risk of:
- Varicose veins caused by pressure on the abdomen and lower body
- Fat deposits in blood vessels, causing atherosclerosis
- Inflammation throughout the body
- Various aspects of metabolic syndrome, including heart and kidney disease
- Diabetes, which can cause nerve and vein damage
These and other factors can cause circulation problems.
People who have chronically cold hands and feet may have Raynaud's disease. The disease causes temporary narrowing and spasm of small arteries in the hands and toes. Symptoms usually last about 20 minutes but can vary. Raynaud's disease usually affects the hands and fingers.
Narrowed arteries are less able to move blood through the body, so you may start to notice symptoms of poor circulation. Symptoms of Raynaud's disease usually occur when you're exposed to cold temperatures or feel unusually stressed.
Typically, arteries narrow in response to cold, but symptoms of Raynaud's disease or Raynaud's phenomenon are not necessarily related to cold.
Your risk of Raynaud's disease is higher if you have:
- Have a connective tissue disease, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (also called lupus or SLE) or Sjogren's syndrome
- Doing work that involves vibration, such as when operating tools
- Over 60 years old with obstructive vascular disease
- using certain medications, such as cyclosporine and non-selective beta blockers
- Have a history of hepatitis B or C or cytomegalovirus
- Have fibromyalgia
Diagnosing poor circulation
Poor circulation can be a symptom of a variety of conditions, and your doctor may need to perform tests to find out the cause.
- Have a physical examination
- Ask about your symptoms
- Ask about any other health conditions
- Ask about any personal or family history of circulatory or cardiovascular problems
They may also recommend:
- Antibody blood test to detect inflammatory conditions, such as Raynaud's disease
- Blood tests, including blood count, blood sugar, kidney function, and cholesterol
- Get a blood test to look for high levels of D-dimer if blood clots are present
- Ultrasound or CT scan
- Blood pressure tests, including testing the legs
Treat poor circulation
Treatment for circulatory problems depends on the cause.
Some options include:
- Compression stockings can relieve leg pain and swelling
- Exercise program to increase blood circulation
- Insulin or lifestyle changes to help control diabetes
- Laser or endoscopic vein surgery to treat varicose veins
- Take medications based on your condition, such as blood clot-busting drugs or blood thinners
- Alpha-blockers and calcium channel blockers for the treatment of Raynaud's disease
Some natural treatments for circulatory problems include:
- exercise regularly
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that provides fiber and other nutrients from trusted sources
- Weight control
- avoid or quit smoking
These strategies are essential for cardiovascular health, but your doctor may recommend combining them with medications. Always follow your doctor's recommendations for treating circulatory problems and their underlying causes.
Some people use supplements to improve circulation, such asTrusted Source:
- Vitamin E
- Multiminerals and multivitamins
- folic acid
- Nicotinic acid
However, there's not enough evidence that they work, and they may not be safe for everyone. Always talk to your doctor before using supplements, as some supplements may interfere with the effects of other medications.
There are many causes of circulation problems, and some can lead to life-threatening complications if left untreated.
Smoking, obesity, diabetes and older age are some risk factors for poor circulation, but genetic conditions, infections and lifestyle habits may also play a role.
If you notice tingling, pain or other signs that may indicate a circulatory problem, seek medical advice. Often, treatment can help prevent complications.
If your arteries become clogged, you may have a heart attack or stroke. If this occurs, emergency medical assistance must be sought immediately.